HRAFF Film Review – At Night, They Dance

By Maya Chanthaphavong

Reda lives in a small flat in downtown Cairo. A separated mother of seven, she oversees the bookings of her belly-dancing daughters to various male-only celebrations. A retired belly dancer herself, Reda has the dual role of mother and manager, making for potentially highly volatile situations.

At Night, They Dance focuses on Reda and her three daughters, providing a glimpse into the unglamorous reality of a trade that objectifies women at the same time as it derides them, leading those involved to be viewed as social pariahs by mainstream Egyptian society.

The personal lives of the sisters – Amira, who has relationship and substance abuse issues; Bussy, who likes to sleep at night rather than dance; and the youngest of the dancing troupe, Hind, who is in love with her neighbour’s husband – provide for a highly engaging documentary.

The girls all look up to Reda who, despite presenting a stoic and outspoken personality to the camera, is quite vulnerable and desperately in need of attention herself …

Directors Isabelle Lavigne and Stephane Thibault follow the sisters for some months. They are made privy to what the girls view as the mundane ritual of getting ready to dance at engagement parties before audiences made up solely of men; and Reda’s conversations with clients about a night’s booking.

Once the audience gets to know the women, it becomes evident that only the youngest of Reda’s daughters actually actively enjoys dancing. Her youth and provocative moves make her the centre of attention at each function. Hind’s carefree attitude establishes her as an easy target for police, who arrest her on the charge of depravity.

At Night, They Dance is not simply a documentary about a belly-dancing family; it is also a story of strength and perseverance, vulnerability and fragility. The girls all look up to Reda who, despite presenting a stoic and outspoken personality to the camera, is quite vulnerable and desperately in need of attention herself (she is eight months pregnant). There are times when the camera catches her crying silently and we are reminded just how tough her situation must be.

At Night, They Dance offers an engaging insight into a sphere of Egyptian society that is often depicted as dazzling and inclusive to women.

The audience watches Reda’s daughters alternate between having a quiet detachment from their craft, to exhibiting excited exuberance in picking out skimpy dance outfits. Despite knowing that leading a dancer’s life will most likely result in them being viewed as unsavoury in mainstream Egyptian society’s eyes (death threats, rape and kidnapping have occurred in the industry), the girls dance knowing that they are supporting their mother and their familial unit.

At Night, They Dance offers an engaging insight into a sphere of Egyptian society that is often depicted as dazzling and inclusive to women. The viewer walks away with a deeper understanding of both the industry and the people within it. The film is certainly worth watching.

At Night, They Dance screened on Thursday 17 May at 9:00pm, at Melbourne’s ACMI cinemas. You can read more about the film on its official website.

For more on our coverage of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, click here.

To visit the HRAFF website, click here.

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